Mātauranga Māori, tino rangatiratanga and the future of New Zealand Science

Mātauranga Māori, tino rangatiratanga and the future of New Zealand Science

The New Zealand Government is not fulfilling its responsibilities to the Treaty of Waitangi when it comes to Science, especially in education.  The authors of this paper so accurately put it that “the structures of Western science – such as the specific compartmentalisation into disciplines, and the types of knowledge that are excluded or included – reflect Western philosophical traditions.”

At the outset of the article mātauranga is defined as, “Māori knowledge and all that underpins it, as well as Māori ways of knowing.”  Added to this is the notion that separating the world into subject labelled boxes is inappropriate and insensitive to the foundations of Māori culture.

This article outlines the desperate need for a revival of mātauranga Māori in New Zealand.  The introduction of Western ways of thinking, doing and educating have overridden the values held by Māori.  Unfortunately, at the time of printing, the powers that be in New Zealand - especially in the education system – were not treating the matter with the respect and urgency needed.  The priority status promised to mātauranga Māori was not backed with financial support.  This is not a quick-fix issue.  Mātauranga Māori is special to the indigenous people of our country and it cannot be appropriately cared for by non-Māori agencies.  The revival must belong to Māori.  

This is a damning review of policy in New Zealand, and I am ashamed to say I was largely unaware of just how much the Western world view has trampled that of our indigenous people.  I was reminded of this (apologies for language): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hYeFcSq7Mxg

The New Zealand Curriculum was reviewed and released as I was training to be a teacher.  At the time, it was revolutionary.  Before this, each subject had a thick booklet containing everything our learners should cover while at school and standards for each of the eight levels of learning.  It was basically a handbook.  The new curriculum is much less prescriptive and focuses more on values than on outcomes.  It is certainly a step in the right direction, but it still hasn’t given mātauranga Māori equal standing with Western knowledge systems. 

If you read the Curriculum Document, (not suggesting you study the whole thing) available here: http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/ the attitudes addressed in this article are plain to see.  The overview of Science as a subject makes it fairly clear that mātauranga is not valued in the mainstream system.  The focus is very much the Western view of science as a methodical and structured knowledge system. There is a separate document for Māori medium education, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, that is not addressed in standard teacher education programmes.  I appreciate that the existence of a separate document shows respect to the need for Māori to have ownership of their ways of learning and knowing, and gives freedom to share these with younger generations, but it does not yet demonstrate equality for both Western and Māori world views.  As stated in the article, “The goal is not partnership; it is tino rangatiratanga and reinstituting mātauranga as a primary and independent knowledge system.”  At the moment, it is pushed to the side, and not equal in standing.

In two years of teacher training and nearly 10 years in the classroom, the idea that division of subjects is not culturally sensitive was never addressed.  I hate the boxes our students are forced into for learning.  It’s not the real world.  However, for some reason, our education system is totally dominated by the Western view of the world.  What bothers me most about this is that seemingly, no one bats an eyelid at this.  (At least those with the most influence).

As far as I can tell, there is little to no consideration of mātauranga Māori in mainstream secondary education, only in specialist Māori medium schools.  It further supports Rauna Kuokkanen’s assertion, quoted in the article that, “Western academics typically treat Indigenous knowledge systems as supplementary to real knowledge ‘relevant only to the extent that they have something to offer existing theories and discourses.’”  It is really challenging to make the two worlds of mātauranga Māori and Western educational values meet harmoniously.  They are so fundamentally different.  The thing is, if we can crack this, and design an education system that values and embraces mātauranga Māori, we all win.  What could science in schools look like if we succeed?

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